Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Theology Of Wars

The continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be hot-button issues that not only roil but divide people from across global boundaries. And discussions are pregnant with busted emotions, which will need to be tested under the cold and unsparing eye of logic and reason. Most of the time when one side is devoid of sufficient logic and/or reason, the appeal to the emotions is a very good and effective substitute. However, those who want to continue to appeal to logic and reason should not be discouraged to silence and inaction. Thus, let us continue the discussion, on a civil and dispassionate tone catered by logic and reason.

Because of the wars’ overarching reach, most if not all of us have personal and/or vested interests on the events and outcome. My third son’s Marines reserve unit participated in it. Thus, for a while he had to leave behind a wife and two little kids. Others are in similar situations and thus would probably want to lend or add moral perspectives to the issue so that these young soldiers at least know why they are finding themselves in these precarious situations.

I believe the following general statements are given, and accepted as true:

1. War by its very nature is evil. Nobody wants or desires war, except in the cases of crazed individuals or tyrants. Anti-war protestors know that Bush himself does not like war. He said so many, many times.

2. Though evil, the history of war has shown some good coming out of it. WW2 is a supreme example that cannot be debated.


3. This constant tug between the evil that war is and the good associated with some of them, has brought about a whole body of work delving on the various moral and ethical issues surrounding it. Thus, we hear the words, a just war, or an unjust war.

A little Christian history reveals the following. The beginnings of the just war tradition point to St. Augustine, who carries the title of Doctor of the Church in the RCC. He postulated that rightly-constituted public authorities have the moral duty to pursue justice, even at the risk of themselves and their constituents. Another Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas developed it and brought in the broader issue of charity.

At present most Christian denominations now follow the same guidelines which developed over the centuries.

Two criteria divide the entire discussion:

1. The War-Decision Law criterion (or in Latin, ius ad bellum):

In this part, the following questions have to be addressed and resolved:

a. Is the cause a just one?

b. Will the war be conducted by a responsible public authority?

c. Is there a right intention? (Which among other things, precludes acts of vengeance or reprisal)


d. Is the contemplated action “proportionate”, i.e., appropriate to the just cause?

e. Is the good to be accomplished likely to be greater than the evil that would be suffered if nothing were done?


f. Or if the use of armed force were avoided for the sake of other types of measures?

g. Have other remedies been tried and found wanting?


h. Or Are other remedies prima facie unlikely to be effective?

i. Is there a reasonable chance of success?

2. The War-Conduct Law criterion ( or, ius in bello) Positive answers to the above, bring on the following questions:

a. Questions of Proportionality, which requires the use of no more force than necessary to vindicate the just cause.

b. Questions of Discrimination, which require the observance of the moral principle of non-combatant immunity.


Hopefully, the path of future discussions will converge around these criteria.

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